Skip to content

Respect drives Penske-Ganassi rivalry – but is that enough?

Oct 16, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT

Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves AP

Open-wheel racing’s preeminent rivalry is not fueled by bitterness, but by mutual respect.

Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing have continually challenged each other for glory in the form of race wins and series championships, and in doing so, they have set themselves apart as two of the most successful squads in the history of the sport.

But instead of having their constant struggle for supremacy be tinged by acrimony, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi’s groups have, by and large, kept things gentlemanly.

Oh, rest assured that they definitely want to beat each other. And there have been the inevitable occasional flare-ups – in fact, the most recent ones came just this past summer with TCGR’s Scott Dixon and Penske’s Will Power involved in twin incidents at Sonoma and then again at Baltimore.

But for the two teams, it all comes back to admiration for their collective ability to contend week in and week out.

“That’s what drives us, to be honest about it, and I think that’s what drives us to be with them race in and race out, wheel to wheel, every weekend, because that’s the measure,” TCGR managing director Mike Hull said during an IndyCar teleconference on Tuesday in advance of Saturday night’s season-ending MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“There are other teams that we race against that do the same job, but what you have to do is you have to create a mindset that you’re going to do the job season in and season out, and that’s what we saw in Penske Racing when we tried to form the organization that we formed.”

In another sign of cordiality, Penske team president Tim Cindric then proceeded to thank Hull for those comments before noting how both teams “have the resources and the ability to attract the best people” and set themselves apart from the rest in the paddock.

“I think that’s the mindset that both groups have, is that second isn’t good enough, and that’s what you need,” Cindric said. “But the difference really is the people that I think both groups have and the continuity that we have with not only our sponsors but our people.

“The people certainly make the difference because they’re the ones that really execute on race day or they don’t.  But I think the reason why we’re all involved in it really is just the passion we have for the sport.”

Together, the two teams have become the major forces in the IZOD IndyCar Series, winning a combined 60 of 84 races over the last five years. Additionally, they have earned a combined six series championships since 2003; Ganassi has five, Penske has one.

And after Saturday, the Penske/Ganassi bloc will have added a seventh crown over the last decade. Dixon and Penske’s three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves are the last men standing, with Dixon holding a 25-point lead going into the final race of 2013; a finish of fifth or better at ACS will seal the deal for him.

So, Penske vs. Ganassi is, once again, the title fight. One could think that such a repeated occurrence could lead to a sense of ennui between the teams.

Not so.

“Mike and I have both been on teams that don’t run up at the front, and it just seems so far away,” Cindric explained. “You know, it just seems so difficult to get there, and when you are there, sometimes you get somewhat immune to it and you catch yourself maybe thinking, ‘Hey, is this really worth it or is this really what I signed up to do?’”

“And that thought goes away pretty quickly, because you realize what it’s like to be on the other side of it, and I guess I call it the real world and our world. Once you’ve lived in our world, you really don’t want to go back to the real world.”

No real hatred. No lingering ill will. And, from their perspective, no boredom from locking horns all the time. Emphasizing on-track competition, the Penske-Ganassi rivalry should be considered as one that stacks up nicely against its analogues from the stick-and-ball side of things.

And yet, to many fans within the IndyCar base, the two teams are despised. Perhaps we can blame that on their aforementioned collective dominance. Nobody likes it when somebody wins too often, after all. Ask Jeff Gordon or Sebastian Vettel.

These followers must have taken great delight in seeing how this season began with six different winners in the first seven races. None of those winners came from the Penske or Ganassi teams, and we’ll admit, that was quite intriguing to see.

However, the pendulum has swung back. In the last 11 races, eight have been won by Penske or Ganassi drivers. During this stretch, Dixon’s chalked up four wins (three of them in succession at Pocono and the Toronto doubleheader), Power’s grabbed two (Sonoma and Houston Race 2), and Castroneves and Ganassi’s third pilot, Charlie Kimball, have each scored one.

But when you push aside the supposed “winning too much” aspect for a moment, something else emerges. In an age where controversy often propels the news cycle and gets people talking and Tweeting, the overall sensibility of the Penske-Ganassi rivalry can be taken by some as being out of step with the times and not buzz-worthy.

And if IndyCar needs anything right now, it’s buzz. The title hype going into this weekend is certainly there for all of us who follow the sport but is there a huge, national anticipation for Saturday’s 500-miler in Southern California? I think we know the answer all too clearly.

Neither Penske nor Ganassi will ever apologize for how they go about their business, and they shouldn’t. For many years, they’ve been setting the standard and that’s going to remain their focus.

Still, the fact remains that IndyCar sorely lacks the lightning rod personalities that will get more people to pay attention to the series, whether they love or loathe them. They’ll get one next year when Juan Pablo Montoya returns to open-wheel as part of Team Penske, but one man won’t do the job alone.

In a perfect world, IndyCar’s tremendous racing would speak louder than anything else, and Penske and Ganassi’s relatively clean rivalry would be endlessly praised. But this is not a perfect world…Is it?

Latest Posts
  1. Gordon’s Brickyard legacy superb, but can’t be compared to other Indy legends

    Jul 27, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT

    Jeff Gordon AP

    A world of differences make it impossible to weigh Jeff Gordon’s accomplishments at Indy against those of A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser Sr., and Michael Schumacher.

  2. Kyle Larson has solid outing in first Brickyard 400

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:52 PM EDT

    (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images) (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

    INDIANAPOLIS – Jeff Gordon gave himself an early 43rd birthday present with Sunday’s Brickyard 400 win. Kyle Larson also gave himself an early birthday present – his 22nd will be Thursday – with a solid seventh-place finish in his first Brickyard.

  3. Joe Gibbs Racing has great overall Brickyard run, but Denny Hamlin’s car could have issues

    Jul 27, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT

    joe gibbs AP

    INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t quite the 1-2-3 finish they might have hoped for, but it was almost just as good for Joe Gibbs Racing’s three drivers in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch finished second to winner Jeff Gordon, followed by Denny Hamlin in third and Matt Kenseth was fourth.

  4. Kyle Busch picks up 3rd runner-up finish in last 4 races

    Jul 27, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT

    Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 Getty Images

    Rowdy continues his strong performance as of late with another P2 at Indianapolis.

  5. Kasey Kahne unable to hang on late at the Brickyard

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    Kasey Kahne AP

    Kasey Kahne led a race-high 70 laps, but lost the Brickyard 400 lead to Jeff Gordon on a restart with 16 laps to go and faded to sixth.

  6. Jeff Gordon wins record 5th Brickyard 400 in vintage fashion

    Jul 27, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/Robert Baker) AP

    INDIANAPOLIS – It was an oldie but goodie performance as Jeff Gordon – seven days short of his 43rd birthday – rallied late to win Sunday’s 21st Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  7. Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

    Jul 27, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    One final round-up from the Hungaroring following Daniel Ricciardo’s supreme victory.

  8. Broken axle spoils Danica Patrick’s day, Brickyard win hopes

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT

    (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    A broken rear axle ended Danica Patrick’s day prematurely in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  9. Brickyard 400 Update: Strategies shifting, but Kahne’s leading at halfway

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT

    Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 Getty Images

    Strategy plays have been plentiful in the first half of today’s race at Indianapolis.

  10. Sebastian Vettel struggles to seventh in Hungary after spin

    Jul 27, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Defending world champion has a quiet race at the Hungaroring; now 43 points behind Ricciardo in the drivers’ championship.

  11. Hamilton unsure why he was asked to let Rosberg past

    Jul 27, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Briton was asked twice to let Rosberg past, but he defied team orders on both occasions.

  12. Carl Edwards says he has a 2015 deal “worked out”

    Jul 27, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT

    Camping World RV Sales 301 - Practice Getty Images

    “I have a deal moving forward. I can’t announce it yet. When all those pieces come together, it’ll be announced and we’ll talk about it.” – Edwards

  13. Perez and Ericsson crash hard in Hungary (VIDEOS)

    Jul 27, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Big crashes for both Perez and Ericsson, but luckily neither suffered any injuries.

  14. Alonso: Second place “a nice surprise” for Ferrari

    Jul 27, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Best result of the season for Ferrari with Alonso second and Kimi Raikkonen P6.

  15. Announcement of Edwards’ exit from Roush Fenway had some strange timing

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT

    Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 - Practice Getty Images

    By making announcement hours before Brickyard 400, team owner Jack Roush didn’t seem to do Edwards any favors.

  16. Rosberg disappointed with fourth place behind Hamilton (VIDEO)

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Championship lead shrinks by three points after finishing half a second behind Hamilton at the flag.

  17. Hungry Hamilton charges from the pit lane to the podium

    Jul 27, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Cuts the gap to Nico Rosberg by three points, leaving the gap at just eleven for the summer break.

  18. Ricciardo elated with second Formula 1 victory in Hungary

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary Getty Images

    Red Bull driver won a sensational grand prix ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

  19. Carl Edwards to leave Roush Fenway Racing at season’s end

    Jul 27, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT

    Camping World RV Sales 301 - Practice Getty Images

    Roush Fenway Racing announces that its 2015 Sprint Cup driver lineup will feature Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Trevor Bayne.

  20. Ricciardo rockets to sensational Hungarian GP victory

    Jul 27, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Australian driver claims a sensational win for Red Bull, the second of his F1 career.